Sunday, August 10, 2008

If You Handle Birds...

Ringneck Pheasant

Most of us who train and/or run bird dogs have some type of relationship with birds. Be it raising quail or pheasant, catching barn pigeons, raising homing pigeons, or handling game birds on a shooting preserve, we usually are interacting with birds. While most of us don't think much about it, working around birds involves a certain amount of health risk. Game birds are carriers for a variety of diseases, some of which are capable of causing human health concerns. One of the most common is histoplamosis, a fungus found in the droppings of various birds (and bats). This fungus is extremely common in the Ohio Valley and Mississippi Valley regions of the United States. It is especially common in the central eastern United States. Histoplasmosis can infect humans who are exposed to bird or bat droppings; it primarily affects the lungs, or sometimes the eye. While in most cases the infection is non-symtomatic, in some cases it can cause severe lung infections, similar to tuberculosis, or if in the eye, can cause severe retinal damage.

Other diseases associated with birds and/or bird droppings include Cryptococcosis, another respiratory disease, Psittacosis, a bacterial organism that usually attacks the lungs in humans, and encephalitis. Pigeons are suspected of being carriers for encephalitis, notably the St. Louis strain, which is disseminated primarily by mosquitos.

A serious concern with those who handle birds on a regular basis is the possibility of acquiring bird flu. Most authorities believe that it is only a matter of time until the bird flu (caused by the H5N1 virus) mutates and becomes a human-specific pathogen. H5N1 is highly pathogenic, and is capable of "jumping" to infect humans under certain circumstances, although it has not as yet mutated to a human-specific virulent form.

For detailed information on the bird flu, and precautions to take when handling birds, check out the following website produced by the state of Ohio:

Workers should follow certain precautions to minimize risk from disease organisms in the droppings of birds:

**During cleanup, seal any heating and cooling air ducts or shut the system down. Only authorized cleanup personnel should be present.

**The cleanup should be done by healthy individuals.

**Wear a respirator that can filter particles as small as 0.3 microns.

**Wear disposable protective gloves, hat, coveralls and and shoe coverings.

**Moisten the droppings with a light mist of water to keep spores from becoming airborne and keep them wet.

**Put droppings into sealed plastic garbage bags. The outside of the garbage bags should be rinsed off before they are placed in a disposal container.

**When finished and while still wearing the respirator, remove protective clothing and place it in a plastic bag.

**Wash or shower.

**Check with local government agencies to verify that disposal of the waste is permissible through standard trash pickup.

For additional information on diseases carried by birds, check out:

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